Yesterday was the 4th of July, obviously. It was a good one, though, a really good one. I’ve noticed that the older I get, the more these kind of holidays and celebrations become important to me. Not important to me in the sense of being able to get off work or shoot off fireworks, or even enjoy a nostalgic waft of childhood, but rather, important to me because it makes me realize that the reality you have broadcast to you is not necessarily the one that belongs to you. You can watch the news all day, read blogs like these or the paper, listen to talk radio, or visit the major headlines on a website, and whether or not you realize it, you’re being affected by everything they say. I found myself expecting the 4th of July to be a snuffed holiday, especially by my more “worldly” generation. Maybe I expected people to say that America isn’t worth celebrating, that we have way to many fundamental issues to sort out. Instead, I logged onto Facebook (as lame as it sounds) and found that the last 150 of my friends had updated their status’ to say something in honor of the American Independence birthday. They were excited to live here and do their share at enriching a two-century old tradition. What I realized was that everyone still does love this country. The fireworks still envoke a sense of wonder. The prospect of a BBQ with friends still gets you excited. The feel of grass and the cadence of insects in the warm summer air makes you glad that you’re alive. It reassured me that I had certainly had a stake, however small, of this 3.5 million square miles we call home. Last night I didn’t care about Bush’s tax cuts, or Obama’s stump speech, The Earth/Climate/Energy/Mortgage/Obesity crisis(s), or Congress’s inability to accomplish anything I genuinely care about. I simply was glad to smell a grill and sit on a cooler with my guitar.
Yesterday was a day where suburban kids like me sat outside and listened to country music, or hipsters in Brooklyn partied rooftop, or young couples with children gathered at the local square, or the wait staff at a catered event watched fireworks from the loading dock, or small-town kids launched off their own fireworks in the middle of their street. It’s a holiday that belongs to all of us. A country isn’t a physical set of borders, a statistic of residents (legal or illegal), or a bicameral legislature. A country is something more intangible. A country is the what makes you wear red, white and blue, or green on March 17th, or white after Memorial Day. A country is what causes a grocery store to run a special on hotdogs and Coke. A country is what compels you to trade in a night on the couch for a night on a blanket, doused in bug spray.
We might not know all the reasons the Colonies participated in the American Revolution. Everyone might not remember the specific Townshend Duties or even what “No taxation without representation” means. And surely there are even American citizens who couldn’t rifle off why 1776 is a year worth mentioning. I’m certainly not arrogant enough to speak on behalf of “what the founding fathers would say about the state of America here in 2008.” I would like to believe, though, that if they could see that there is still a nation here some 232 years after they signed that piece of parchment on a sweltering July afternoon, that would probably squash about 95% of their concerns. We’ve grown from 4 million of us in 1776 to over 300 million (+/- 12 million) today. We came to our senses and eradicated the enslavement of our fellow man, despite the economic ramifications and remained in tact even amidst a bloody Civil War that ensured thereafter. 13 colonies grew into 50. We saved Europe not once, but twice in the 20th Century, while pulling ourselves from the withering decay of a decade-long depression. We confronted Communism and learned the hard way just how costly an ideological struggle can be; something more prevalent today than ever.
Here we are, the United States. We still squabble over legislation, but we do it in our majestic Capitol building. We complain about the actions of a President, but we picket legally, because we can. We toil through our daily lives, the ups and downs of an economy, that even on its worst day, is better than what 3/4 of the world could even dream of. Our technology, ideology, and creativity has permeated every corner of the world. And even despite our flaws, most of the world still looks to us as a model society, whether you want to believe it or not.
So, if Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Adams or even Mr. John Hancock showed up today to see what the 4th of July meant in 2008, they wouldn’t need to see the collection of monuments surrounding the Mall in D.C. They wouldn’t need to see a patriotic movie or a parade. All they’d need to do is walk out of the pine trees at dusk toward a group of people having a BBQ and approach a guy sitting on a cooler. And after he briefly contemplated their odd choice in clothing, he’d speak to them in a familiar version of English and say, “You guys want a beer?” At which point I think at that point the Founding Fathers would look at each other and say, “It worked… it actually worked.”